We’re dedicated to developing deeper knowledge and better practice on how to give every horse and pony their best life. For Komet, this meant preparing him for a visit from the vet as he had a severe phobia for needles. Here’s how we did it…
11-year-old Komet was so afraid of needles that his behaviour had become challenging to manage. It was becoming increasingly difficult to administer the routine vaccinations and veterinary care he required.
Our specialist Equine Training Lead, Nicola Anstey, began working with Komet to help him overcome his fear.
“When I first started working with Komet he was extremely nervous of anyone touching his neck and was even reluctant to allow anyone to stand beside him, so it really was a case of taking it right back to the basics.
“I used a supplement tub lid as the target and rewarded Komet with a fibre nugget and a click every time he put his nose near it. He picked it up quickly and we then worked on withholding the treat for only a second or two, so that Komet learnt to keep his nose near the target for a longer duration of time.
“After only a short period of time, I was able to touch Komet’s neck and we began building on this. We progressed gradually to touching him with an empty syringe and gently pinching his skin in the same way a vet would when giving an injection.
“The next phase included adding in a second person to the training to replicate the vet. This included dressing up as a vet and introducing smells that he might experience during a veterinary visit, such as antiseptic and disinfectant.
“After three months, it was the day for his vaccination and I could barely sleep the night before. We did everything as we normally would, Komet was loose in his stable with the company of neighbouring horses and I was there with our vet. This time during the training he was successfully given his real vaccination. He flinched slightly which is what we were expecting, but he remained calm and continued to eat his fibre nuggets straight after. I couldn’t have been more proud of him.”
Nicky’s work with Komet continues and his training journey has been captured in a new training film we’re now using to share best practice with other equine owners.
“One of the methods of positive reinforcement training that we can use combines the use of a clicker and target, to help our rescued horses and ponies learn new things. This sustainable training method encourages the horse to choose whether to connect with the handler and gives them the option to move away if they feel too anxious. Therefore, if a horse chooses to interact with the handler, we know they are doing it because they want to and they feel safe.